a compilation of my work and thoughts

Twitter replacing journalists?

In online journalism on December 13, 2008 at 3:36 pm

Today TechNewsWorld.com posted an article entitled “The Mumbai Reports: Will Twittering Masses Supplant Pro Journalists?” As a journalist, still trying to navigate the new waters of the ever-increasing convergent media phenomenon, the headline immediately caught my eye…

I have to admit: I jumped on the Twitter-wagon a few months ago. Part of it was out of sheer curiosity after it was first brought to my attention during media coverage of the presidential election, the other part was because of all the hype.

On a personal level, I can see why it’s becoming so popular – giving people a little bit of insight into your life. It’s fun! What am I doing? “…people-watching while waiting for my train at Dupont Metro.” Or “…unsuccessfully trying to feed my 1-year-old peas while at the same time trying to find my 5-year-old’s shoe (while at the same time tweeting you!).” But, after a few tweets of my own and then reading others’, I found myself asking, “Who the heck cares?”

Now, on a professional level, to me, that’s where it starts to get a bit more complicated.

In the article, writer Renay San Miguel writes:

“We have a new entrant in the technology-changes-news sweepstakes: Twitter and
its use during last week’s horrific terrorist attacks in Mumbai, India.
Depending on which media analysis you prefer, the free mobile micro-blogging
service is now officially influential, and has either single-handedly made TV
news irrelevant by sending scraps of information halfway around the world while
network news was still putting on its shoes, or it’s making regular news
gatekeepers that much more important because whether we like it or not,
traditional media helps narrow the stream on the digital information firehose
we’re all trying to drink from in the 21st century.”

Which analysis do you prefer? I’m leaning towards the “making regular news gatekeepers that much more important” one. I was responsible for tweeting DC’s 21st Annual Help the Homeless Walkathon last month for the American Observer. You can see my tweets here. I must say, I really enjoyed it! I understand how beneficial and cool it is to have lightning-speed information available at one’s fingertips during news events, especially when it’s breaking (not that the walk was breaking, but it was fun nonetheless). But what I don’t understand is the notion of some that citizen journalists – through the help of Twitter and other social networking tools like YouTube, Facebook and a camera-phone – might somehow, someday force professional journalists into nonexistence.

San Miguel references a conversation with Dianne Lynch, a journalist who posts regularly to PBS’s “Mediashift” blog, in which Lynch told San Miguel the idea that “we’re all journalists now. That is nonsense. A journalist gets a message and then spends the time and resources to make sure it’s true before he shares it.

“Twitter is a tool,” she says. “Like all technology platforms or tools, it has a purpose and value in a particular time and context.”

The thing is when news breaks in the newsroom, yes, there is an undeniable rush to get the information out to the public as soon as possible (and yes, be the first station, paper, or site to do so). But, I’d like to think that the incessant (sometimes annoying and nagging) pull or inner-voice we as journalists should always feel and hear, reminding us to “check the facts… remember accuracy… credibility… fairness” still exists. Just because we have a faster, bigger and better way of getting the information out there, doesn’t mean we forget everything we’ve learned. And, it also doesn’t mean anybody can do what we do.

Twitter is fun. It’s exciting. It’s a great tool to have in your journalist tool belt. But just like the pen, reporter notebook, laptop computer, and cell phone… the instrument (or in this case, technology) is only as good as the person using it.

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